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New Delhi: French automaker Citroen, which is set to enter the Indian market later this year, is banking on heavily localised vehicles and growing consumer preference for sports utility vehicles to emerge as a major player in the country over the next few years.

Roland Bouchara, senior vice-president (sales and marketing) at Citroen India, while conceding that India is a “tough market” said it also presented a huge opportunity to Citroen over the next few years to evolve into a major player. “Passenger vehicle sales in India are expected to grow to 5 million units per annum over the next few years. Secondly, the share of SUVs in overall PV sales has been rising. With this kind of segmentation and given our portfolio, we are confident we can emerge as a  ..

The share of SUVs in India’s passenger vehicle sales increased to 29% last year from 25.6% in 2019. While overall passenger vehicle sales fell 18% in 2020 amid the disruption caused by the pandemic, the SUV segment performed much better with only a 6% drop.

Citroen, part of Groupe PSA, will enter the Indian market with the launch of premium SUV Citroen C5 Aircross shortly. This would be followed by vehicles on a new platform (CMP), which has been designed and developed keeping in mind the needs of Indian consumers. The vehicles will be made using more than 90% of locally sourced components and material.

“We have also localised the gearbox and the powertrain even before launching our first vehicle, which no other manufacturer operating here has done. We have made small changes in our strategy based on our learnings from the market,” Bouchara said.

Citroen declined to share the timeline for the launch of the first vehicle on the new platform, but said it will introduce a new vehicle every year in the country to shore up volumes, starting 2021. Groupe PSA is investing more than 100 million euros on the new platform. The C5 Aircross is based on a different platform.

Citroen expects India to emerge as one of the biggest growth drivers for the brand in the next five years.

The company has already appointed dealers for covering the top 10 Indian cities, Bouchara said. The distribution network will be expanded further ahead of the launch of mass segment vehicles. The C5 will be available with diesel engines, which will be assembled locally. Vehicles developed on the CMP platform under the C-Cube programme, however, will come strapped with only petrol engines.

“To begin with, we will focus on petrol engines for vehicles under the C-Cube programme,” said Saurabh Vatsa, senior director (marketing and PR Operations) at Citroen India.